Epic and Purāṇic Cosmologies


Staff member
John E. Michiner's Traditions of the Seven Ṛṣis (Delhi, 1981) gives an excellent overview of the various cycles of time in the Vedas, the epics, and the Purāṇas, especially the Ages of Manu and the role of the Vedic sages in creating and maintaining the cosmos. Also addressing both epic and Purāṇic understandings of time is R. K. Dwivedi's "A Critical Study of the Changing Social Order at Yuganta; or, the End of the Kali Age," in D. D. Kosambi Commemoration Volume, edited by Lallanji Gopal, Jai Prakash Singh, and Nisar Ahmad (Varanasi, India, 1977), pp. 276–297. Wendell C. Beane's "Cosmological Structure of Mythical Time: Kālī-Sakti," History of Religions 13 (1973): 54–83, connects these time cycles with the goddess concept of shakti. Tracy Pintchman builds on these insights in "Gender Complementarity and Gender Hierarchy in Purānic Accounts of Creation," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66 (1998): 257–282. For conceptions of place, Ian W. Mabbett's "The Symbolism of Mount Meru," History of Religions 23 (1983): 64–83, is a good introduction to the issues at stake, as is Adalbert J. Gail's "Die neun Abschnitte Bhāratavarsas: Eine textgeschichtliche Untersuchung," Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde südasiens und Archiv für indische Philosophie 17 (1973): 5–20. To see all of these cosmological traditions tied together into a philosophical point of view, one might read Alfred Collins's "From Brahma to a Blade of Grass: Towards an Indian Self Psychology," Journal of Indian Philosophy 19 (1991): 143–189. For more local Purāṇas and their cosmologies, see Don Handelman's "Myths of Murugan: Asymmetry and Hierarchy in a South Indian Puranic Cosmology," History of Religions 27 (1987): 133–170; William L. Smith's "The Celestial Village: The Divine Order in Bengali Myth," Temenos 18 (1982): 69–81; and David C. Scott's "Radha in the Erotic Play of the Universe," Asia Journal of Theology 12, no. 2 (1998): 338–357. No discussion of Purāṇic cosmology would be complete without a discussion of the related medieval tradition of Tantric cosmology. Most scholarly works concentrate on Śaivite (Shaivite) traditions, as do S. Arulsamy's "Spiritual Journey in Shaiva Siddhanta," Journal of Dharma 11, no. 1 (1986): 37–61; Gavin D. Flood's "Shared Realities and Symbolic Forms in Kashmir Shaivism," Numen 36 (1989): 225–247; and Paul E. Muller-Ortega's "Aspects of Jīvanmukti in the Tantric Shaivism of Kashmir," in Living Liberation in Hindu Thought, edited by Andrew O. Fort and Patricia Y. Mumme (Albany, N.Y., 1996), pp. 187–217. Glen Alexander Hayes turns to cosmological Tantra in Bengal in his "Cosmic Substance in the Vaisnava Sahajiyā Traditions of Medieval Bengal," Journal of Vaisnava Studies 5 (1996): 183–196.